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Polygon's Games of the Year 2013 #3: TowerFall

Russ Frushtick is the director of special projects, and he has been covering the world of video games and technology for over 15 years. He co-founded Polygon in 2012.

I'm easily one of the most competitive gamers on the Polygon staff. Over the last half decade, I've dropped around 400 hours on Call of Duty and Battlefield multiplayer matches. And yet, those series, with their monumental budgets and development teams, were trumped in 2013 by a dude named Matt, who made a game called TowerFall.

TowerFall is a four-player local multiplayer game in which archers attempt to ventilate their foes in 2D arenas. The closest comparison would be Smash Bros. if it were made for the SNES.

But TowerFall seems to lack many of the features that make Smash Bros. so popular. For one thing, all of the archers have identical abilities (and no Pokémon brand appeal), with only varying costumes to differentiate them. TowerFall is also considerably faster, with one-hit kills leading to rounds that can last just a few seconds.

It's that same simplicity, though, that makes TowerFall so appealing. There's a very shallow learning curve, which allows newcomers to be successful in minutes. As in poker, TowerFall experts can be trumped by newbies simply because amateurs are wildly unpredictable.

Sounds of cheering and unbridled profanity echo through the halls and out over the bullpen, letting everyone know that the game is afoot

This has resulted in a cult-like following in Polygon's New York City office. Sounds of cheering and unbridled profanity echo through the halls and out over the bullpen, letting everyone know that the game is afoot. Slowly but surely, members from every department have found their way into our testing room, whether they're hardcore League of Legends addicts or haven't touched a video game since Mario Kart 64. Like all great multiplayer games, TowerFall brings people together.

The approachability of TowerFall is paired with a subtle level of depth that seems to sate even the most competitive in our office. Intricate techniques involving dodging and careful arrow arcing make high-level "ranked" games intense, chess-like affairs. Seriously, we have a hand-written leaderboard tracking wins and losses in ranked matches. We're serious about TowerFall.

Another factor that makes TowerFall so replayable: Just about every aspect of the game can be easily altered, like the number of arrows archers spawn with or which power-ups can appear. It's easy to tweak the things you like and disable the things you don't, which is a rarity in multiplayer games these days.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of TowerFall is that we were willing to suffer through the foibles and frustrations of the Ouya just to play it. Controllers desyncing and Wi-Fi issues made every play session a challenge, and yet we plowed ahead because of the insane quality of the game. (As you can guess, its arrival to Windows PC and PlayStation 4 in early 2014 is eagerly awaited.)

There's really no way to appropriately convey the joy of TowerFall. Screenshots don't do it. Gameplay videos don't do it. You have to sit down on a couch with a crowd of friends and experience it for yourself. Just mind the profanity.

Polygon's 2013 Games of the YearMore

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